Okay, you’re really getting fundraising down. Your stuff is good. You’re telling great stories, sharing a lot of love with your donors, and putting powerful fundraising offers in their hands.
But that doesn’t always mean all is well. We all face it at some point: Colleagues and bosses who don’t like fundraising.
Your excellent work can amount to nothing if people in your organization stand against fundraising.
It’s a common problem, so don’t feel you’re alone if you’re facing it. That means a lot of people have been where you are, and many have found solutions and workarounds. Here are some of the common anti-fundraising attitudes and some ideas on how you can successfully answer them.
“Fundraising is not what we’re about”
To be fair, that statement is completely correct. Your organization doesn’t exist to raise funds. You exist to pursue your mission. Fundraising exists to make that possible.
But unless you have some other way to fund your work, you need to bite the bullet and do fundraising. And, as with anything you do in life, your chances of success are much higher if you believe in it.
If this objection comes up, it might be useful to have an in-depth discussion about how you are or should be funded. Suppose you discover a way to fund your work through ticket sales or fees-for service. I can guarantee that at some point, someone is going to make the completely true statement that “Ticket sales is not what we’re about.” If fundraising feels irksome, wait until you see what it takes to excel in sales.
If you’re funded by the government, guess what happens when that party loses the election. If you have one or two megadonors, what will happen to that funding if (when) they rethink their priorities? Or die?
Fundraising is no picnic. It calls for a mindset that’s quite different from the mindset of successfully pursuing a cause. (For more about those two mindsets and how to embrace the differences and get them working together, read It Takes 2 Cultures to Make a Great Nonprofit — and That Can Be Hard!
“Fundraising is an ethically questionable activity”
I know fundraisers who are ashamed of asking for money. They equate it with a con-job — an unethical fleecing of donors as if they’re getting the better of donors in some barely tolerable way. And their only defense for getting money away from donors is the ethically challenged argument that the end justifies the means.
After all, when a donor gives you some money, they have less and you have more, right?
It’s true. But it’s far from the whole story.
The exchange of money is one of the less important things that happens when someone gives to a nonprofit. When you embrace this fact, you can put behind you the guilt that some fundraisers struggle with. (There are fraudulent and unethical fundraisers out there. They are doing questionable (at best) fundraising. But that’s not you, I hope!)
The research on charitable giving is clear: its positive impact on donors is overwhelming, and it’s much more than the release of dopamine that gives donors the well-documented “warm glow of altruism.” Here are some other things giving does for donors:
- Giving increases well-being by improving self-esteem, optimism, and general happiness.
- Giving improves physical and mental health (likely because of the above).
- Giving raises awareness and consciousness — a donor cares more and more deeply about the causes they support than a non-donor.
- Giving even correlates with better financial health.
Oh, and giving makes the donor’s world a better place by supporting your excellent cause.
All your organization gets out of the exchange is some cash. Who’s getting the better deal?
“Fundraising is a form of begging”
You’ve probably had the unpleasant experience where someone — a stranger on the street or someone in a social situation — wheedled and annoyed you for some kind of donation until you gave them some money just to make them stop. It doesn’t feel good. You feel “had.”
Nobody wants to be “that guy.” It would be not only embarrassing but financially unsustainable.
It’s unfortunate, but some fundraising really does follow an “annoy people until they give” model. But that’s a choice, not a built-in feature of fundraising.
Or you can choose to do your fundraising a better way:
- Make your goal meaningful and mutually satisfying relationships with donors, not just cash in the door.
- Fundraising is about action donors can take to make the world better, not about how awesome your programs are.
- Pay attention to donor retention and upgrading. This respects donors by making sure their donations are part of a sustainable strategy.
- Have upgrade paths for all donors who want to upgrade. That means you make it easy for donors to choose monthly giving, higher levels of giving, or bequest giving. Donors can do any or all of these, and these are the most effective forms of fundraising. At the same time, you treat donors who don’t upgrade with respect.
- You listen to donors both by keeping your eye on the data and by actually asking them to talk to you through surveys and easy ways to connect.
That is not begging, or anything like it.
“Fundraising is difficult and expensive. Let’s just get one big funder and be done with it.”
This often comes from new board members. You’ve no doubt heard something like this: “A person I went to school with is good friends with an in-law of Oprah’s gardener. Let’s use this connection and get Oprah to fund us forever!” You’ll never have to do fundraising again!
There are two problems with that:
- It won’t work. Showing up out of nowhere (even if you have “connections”) in front of a famous philanthropist like Oprah Winfrey or Warren Buffett doesn’t work. It’s the equivalent of standing in an open field in hopes that a pure gold asteroid will land in front of you.
- If it did work, you’d have one source of funding that could (and eventually will) disappear, probably with little or no warning.
The hard work and expense of fundraising are a powerful (but not the only) way to fund your organization. It works because it “diversifies your portfolio.” Big picture, it works like this:
- You have a sustainable way to find new donors at a cost-effective rate to replace those who lapse — or more. All donors eventually lapse. Whether it’s because they change their priorities or die, no donor will be with you forever. If you have a volume of donors, any donor leaving you is not a disaster, because every donor supplies only a limited percentage of your revenue.
- You cultivate those donors with effective, action-oriented fundraising and you keep them engaged with effective thanking and reporting back what their giving helps make possible. This not only makes donors feel valued, but it increases their value.
- Having a volume of engaged donors also gives you a pool of those who can become high-value donors — that is, people who give larger amounts, those who give monthly, and those who leave your organization in their wills. These three areas are the most efficient and lucrative forms of fundraising.
All that is not easy, and it’s not cheap. But it’s sustainable, and can give you revenue for the short, middle, and long terms.
When you face attitudes that are negative about fundraising, your best approach is always the truth. Fundraising isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. But if you need to raise money, you also need to embrace fundraising.
Equip yourself with the fact and the strategic framework to do the best fundraising possible. Join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. You’ll get the tools, the information, and the supporting community that will take you to new places in your fundraising career. Join the waiting list now and you’ll be the first to hear when the doors open again!
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One reason so many people hate fundraising – which I don’t see addressed in your ways to combat a hatred of it – is that there is so much very bad, emotionally manipulative and genuinely ethically questionable fundraising out there. My mother has Alzheimer’s. When I see fundraising packages that employ “best practices” that would trick or guilt her into feeling the need to give money simply because she does not have the logical reasoning abilities to recognize that “Final notice” on an envelope doesn’t mean it’s an overdue bill or that “only 4 other people in your area have given” doesn’t mean she should feel pressured, I get angry. And I’ve been in fundraising coming up on 22 years.
The “matches” that aren’t true matches but are worded confusingly enough that only the very savvy person can tell the difference, all the other things many fundraisers tell themselves they have to do to get response, those things make me angry on behalf of my mother and the millions of other people – mainly elderly – who are not just being encouraged to give in a loving and responsible way, but pressured.
Too many fundraisers are not taking into account that a large percentage of the audience they’re writing to – given the average age of most of our donor bases – have some form of dementia or pre-dementia which impairs their ability to understand the subtle nuances we put in copy or design to tell ourselves “well, we’ve got a disclaimer in there.”
That’s what I hate about fundraising. Over the years I have had to work with many, many clients to overcome their hatred of unethical fundraising by demonstrating that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Kat, I often see people say the “hate fundraising,” and then cite examples of unethical fundraising as the reason. Of course, that’s just a straw-man argument. It’s like saying “I hate humanity, because humans rob banks and start wars.”
When we’re up against this, we should point out the problem with it: the existence of unethical fundraising is not a reason to hate fundraising; it’s a reason to hate unethical fundraising. There’s an unethical version of pretty much every human endeavor. Using that fact to condemn all fundraising is not valid. My experience is that it often comes from a personal distaste for fundraising that is looking for a “better” reason than “I don’t like it.”
The job of ethical fundraisers is to keep being ethical and to speak against unethical practices, especially when we encounter them up close.